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Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization

Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext Conundrum ?

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This document assembles summaries of a number of other documents, available on the web [see below], concerning the 'secret history' of hypertext -- the basis for what is now the World Wide Web. It appears from these recent studies by historians of information science that the official history of hyertext has yet to come to terms with the work of a precursor, Paul Otlet. However even these studies, which focus on Otlet's vast bibliographic enterprises and his Universal Decimal Classification, fail to recognize a possible further twist to the story.

Otlet was indeed co-founder (with Nobel Prize laureate Henri La Fontaine) in 1895 of the International Office of Bibliography -- whose work gave rise to current interest in Otlet's prophetic role in framing insight into the possibilities of hypertext. In 1938, the Office had become the Internationational Federation for Documentation (FID), but much of the documentation collected by Otlet was held by another institution, the Mundaneum. Both bodies continue to exist.

What historians have not recognized, in this context, is that Otlet and La Fontaine co-founded another body in 1910, namely the Union of International Associations (UIA). Based in Brussels, this has been a continuing source of international reference materials on 'international associations', notably over the past 50-years since the deaths of its founders. The question is whether this initiative of the founders was totally dissociated from that on which hypertext historians have only recently focused.

Constraints of the past

From a hypertext perspective, it is difficult to avoid asking the question whether a 'Union of International Associations' was not in some measure created to exemplify in organizational practice -- through an enigma à la Umberto Eco -- how semantic 'associations' across conceptual boundaries could be formed into a 'union'. To what degree should the UIA then be understood as a deliberate effort to create, within the frameworks of the time, what is now understood to be a 'virtual organization' -- in the absence of the technology that currently makes this possible?

Of course, as it was formally created, the UIA indeed appeared to be the first effort to coordinate the actions of the existing international organizations of the nascent 'international community' -- as an 'umbrella organization'. Although perhaps the only strategically viable approach at the time, with hindsight this may be seen to have been unnecessarily and dysfunctionally focused on the more explicit, literal and tangible aspects of:

It is curious also that Paul Otlet, in another little-known exercise in synthesis (Monde: essaie d'universalisme -- connaissance du monde; sentiment du monde; action organisée et plan du monde, Brussels, Editions du Mundaneum, 1935), effectively framed the UIA's much later initiative in 1972 to undertake an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential in association with Mankind 2000. The book Monde opens with a preface on Le Problème des Problèmes and closes with one of the earliest explorations of the methodology and organization of world sociological futures studies -- the subsequent raison d'être of Mankind 2000.

Otlet's Monde goes far beyond the technicalities of his Traité de documentation (1934) on which information science historians have focused. It is essentially a treatise on synthesis -- prefiguring work on the nature of transdisciplinarity. His concluding prophetic description of a Universal Documentation Network, on which hypertext historians have focused, is as follows:

French (original) English (translation)
'L'homme n'aurait plus besoin de documentation s'il était assimilé à un être devenu omniscient, à la manière de Dieu même. A un degré moins ultime serait créée une instrumentation agissant à distance qui combinerait à la fois la radio, les rayons Röntgen, le cinéma et la photographie microscopique. Toutes les chaoses de l'univers, et toutes celles de l'homme seraient enregistrées à distance à mesure qu'elles se produiraient. Ainsi serait établie l'image mouvante du monde, sa mémoire, son véritable double. Chacun à distance pourrait lire le passage lequel, agrandi et limité au sujet desiré, viedrait se projeter sur l'écran individuel. Ainsi, chacun dans son fauteuil pourrait contempler la création, en son entier ou en certaines de ses parties.' (Monde, pp. 390-391) Man would no longer need documentation if he were assimilated into an omniscient being - as with God himself. But to a less ultimate degree, a technology will be created acting at a distance and combining radio, X-rays, cinema and microscopic photography. Everything in the universe, and everything of man, would be registered at a distance as it was produced. In this way a moving image of the world will be established, a true mirror of his memory. From a distance, everyone will be able to read text, enlarged and limited to the desired subject, projected on an individual screen. In this way, everyone from his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, as a whole or in certain of its parts. (Monde, pp. 390-391)

Otlet, as one of the first internationalists, followed his detailed appendix on futures methodology with one on a detailed World Plan (in relation to the work of the League of Nations), and another on a World Constitution. These were followed by a fourth laying out in detail the framework of a new type of organization which would be simultaneously concept, institution, method, manifestation, edifice and network:

'Pour considérer le monde dans son total, pour l'envisager dans son ampleur et dans l'interdépendance de ses parties, quelle devrait être l'institution, l'instrumentation scientifique propre aux besoins et aux possibilités de notre temps? Un temps qui se distingue par le depassement du stade national et spécial et l'avènement de la vie universelle et mondiale -- un instrument qui tende à faciliter l'oeuvre de la 'mondialisation'. La réponse est une institution d'un type nouveau, dit le Mundaneum...' (p. 447)

Otlet describes there ( p. 456-7) the ways in which the Union of International Associations had prefigured and taken the initial steps to bring about such an institution with considerazble assistance from the Belgian government from 1920 -- suddenly withdrawn in 1934. Although intricately interrelated to that point, the Mundaneum and the UIA went their quite separate ways thereafter -- barely surviving the war.

To what extent did such overly explicit visions, anchored in tangible documents, perform a historical function as carrier for an implicit vision that framed and prefigured further developments -- but which their preoccupations with hardcopy and institutions (and buildings to house them) effectively obscured for many?

Pressures of the present

A further irony to this hypertext story is that -- in the best tradition of such historical riddles -- the hidden facets of this 'secret' were seemingly never revealed to those who worked at the UIA, over the many decades since its creation, or by those who developed its strategic objectives after Otlet's death. The secret was effectively embodied in the name of the UIA (see another exploration of this at and in its statutory objectives -- that have remained fundamentally unchanged since its creation. Of course, in the spirit of Umberto Eco again, one might choose to speculate on the possibility that the secret was passed on within the UIA in some special way.

The irony is however greater still in that in order to sustain its continuing role in the emerging information society -- as a source of international reference information on 'international associations' and their preoccupations -- the UIA has been progressively obliged to innovate and adapt in such a way as to exemplify the 'hidden' less tangible dimensions concealed by the enigma. This shift in awareness is indicated by the title of a pre-hypertext paper by a UIA staff member in 1977 on Knowledge Representation in a Computer-supported Environment ( It might be said that to survive the UIA had to increase the consonance of its actions with the coherence of the implicit virtual dimensions that empowered it -- all unknowingly of course ! Thus, with respect to:

These tendencies have come to fruition within the World Wide Web since much of its documentation (in electronic form since the 1970s), was already effectively organized as hypertext with a common meta-data structure. The multitude of explicit associative links became immediately 'clickable' when its databases were converted for web access from 1996 (see These now total some 500,000 documents and as many hyperlinks [*** check]. The UIA has modeled Otlet's vision in practice.

The UIA's Encyclopedia databases (problems, strategies) are now accessible over the web ( after recently being further augmented under a contract with the European Commission. Consistent with Otlet's vision, they are interlinked by hyperlinks with the databases on which the UIA has focused from its origin (organizations, biographies, bibliographies, meetings).

Clues for the future

For the UIA of the present, facing a challenging future in a turbulent knowledge-based society, it might be asked how these clues now suggest that an implicit virtual organization might emerge from the closet of explictness in which it has been so respectably entrapped over the years. Is it indeed the case that the explicit focus of the UIA should be understood as the tip of an implicit semantic iceberg for which a suitable form of expression is yet to be found -- most probably through the web? If semantic 'virtuality' is indeed embedded embryonically in a 100-year form, how is it to be revealed through the statutory and other forms by which its actions have been governed over the intervening years? This would make for an interesting theme in psycho-social science fiction !

Reviewing once again the keyword clues of the UIA's title:

Is an organization only what its statutes say it is in a strictly legal context, or is it the pattern of associations it assiduously cultivates that embody the insights in which it has invested -- a pattern that connects?

Is the UIA, as it is now understood to be, effectively a metaphor of what its founders intended it to be -- a virtual organization in a knowledge society?

What did Paul Otlet mean by 'union'? In the conclusion to Monde he states:

'L'Unité: Non pas à la manière qui broie la pierre et en fait du sable, à la manière chimique qui décompose chacun des corps et tend à les réduire à un même élément; mais l'unité à la manière de la musique. Dans les masses vocales et instrumentales, chaque voix, chaque instrument demeure soi, s'associe en famille de voix et d'instruments et se produit tour à tour en soli ou en tutti, affirme et développe les les 'soi', les familles, l'unité, les associations, les nations, mais les rassemble aussi en humanité, et pazr delà en univers.' (p. 403)

Anticipating current hyertext visualization efforts at the UIA, Otlet closed a commentary on the requirements of any suitable notation towards this end, with the remark:

'On pourrait ainsi, schématiquement, représenter le total du monde donnant une vue approximative concrète des éléments en présence. On pourrait aussi, schématiquement, représenter le total du monde par une sphère dont les divers grands cercles, divisés en segments, se rapprocherairent aux diverse catégories d'éléments et à leurs subdivisions, cercles et segments étant supposés projetés en un point central et s'y entrecouper pour figurer l'ensemble de leurs rapports réciproques.' (p. xxv)

Annex: Views of historians on Paul Otlet

The papers presented below, with abstracts and/or extracts, point to further ways to explore this enigma as it relates to the further development of a dream of virtual organization embodied in the social process nearly a century ago:

Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext

W. Boyd Rayward
School of Information, Library and Archive Studies, University of New South Wales, Australia

Published in: Journal of the American Society for Information Science. v45 (4) (May 1994).

Abstract: The work of the Belgian internationalist and documentalist, Paul Otlet (1868-1944), and his colleagues in Brussels, forms an important and neglected part of the history of information science. They developed a complex of organisations that functionally are similar in important respects to contemporary hypertext/hypermedia systems. These organisations effectively provided for the integration of bibliographic, image and textual databases. Chunks of text on cards or separate sheets were created according to "the monographic principle" and their physical organisation managed by the Universal Decimal Classification, created by the Belgians from Melvil Dewey's Decimal Classification. The paper discusses Otlet's concept of the Office of Documentation and, as examples of an approach to actual hypertext systems, several special Offices of Documentation set up in the International Office of Bibliography. In his Traité de Documentation of 1934, one of the first systematic treatises on what today we would call information science, Otlet speculated imaginatively about online communications, text-voice conversion and what is needed in computer work stations, though of course he does not use this terminology. By assessing how the intellectual paradigm of ninteenth century positivism shaped Otlet's thinking, the paper suggests how, despite its apparent contemporaneity, what he proposed was in fact conceptually different from the hypertext systems that have been developed or speculated about today. Such an analysis paradoxically also suggests the irony that a "deconstuctionist "reading of accounts of these systems might find embedded in them the positivist approach to knowledge that they would seem on the face of it to have explicitly repudiated.


The development of Hypertext/hypermedia systems has generated great interest in the last decade. The descriptions of what hypertext can do and what its implications are or will be for learning, science, information retrieval, creative writing and so on have frequently been extravagant to say the least. Most of those who discuss Hypertext/hypermedia systems see the new functionality in information communication and retrieval that these systems involve as originating conceptually in Vannevar Bush's post World War II vision of an information storage and retrieval machine that he called "memex." This paper suggests that much of this functionality was anticipated by a Belgian lawyer, bibliographer and internationalist, Paul Otlet (1868-1944), and that his ideas and the systems to which they gave rise constitute an important chapter in the history of hypertext and in the history of information science more generally.

Otlet wrote eloquently of the need for an international information handling system embracing everything from the creation of an entry in a catalogue to new forms of publication, from the management of libraries, archives and museums as interrelated information agencies to the collaborative elaboration of a universal encyclopedia codifying all of man's hitherto unmanageable knowledge. Central to all of this were the Universal Decimal Classification, a new kind of information agency for information management called the Office of Documentation, a new principle of information indexing and storage, the "monographic principle,"and microfilm. Ultimately he foresaw the creation of a Universal Network for Information and Documentation to which access would be had by multimedia workstations that lay waiting to be invented just beyond the technological capacity of his time. He developed these ideas in a large body of diffuse, repetitive writing dating from 1893. It will be seen that he is a precursor of Bush (1945), Englebart (1963), Nelson (1983, 1987) and others who have set the hypertext/hypermedia agenda in recent years and that he anticipated many of the features of memex, hypertext and Xanadu.

From a Set of Technical Documents to a Hypertext System on the Web

Yannick Marchand, Jean-Luc Guérin, Jean-Paul Barthès

Université de Technologie de Compiègne U.R.A. C.N.R.S. #817 HeuDiaSyC B.P. 529 60205 Compiègne Cedex France E-mail: {marchand,jlguerin,barthes}

Abstract: Mosaic and Netscape have democratised Internet and popularised the notion of hypertext. Although we are clearly satisfied in having access to large amounts of information, we can, on the contrary, regret that at the same time the concept of hypertext has been simplified to such an extent that it has eclipsed some of the original defined goals and hopes of its creators. This article has two objectives. Firstly, to exhibit how this departure from the creator's ideas occurred. We will therefore take a look at the origins of hypertext by considering the aspirations of its creators, namely Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, Theodor Nelson, and also Paul Otlet, an often overlooked visionnary author. Secondly, nevertheless, we will illustrate how it is possible to create a 'true' hypertext on the Web. The hypertext prototype (entitled 'Nestor') that we present has been developed for France Télécom and is notably based upon the coupling of an object oriented database and Netscape through the intermediary of a script language.

The Founding Principles of Hypertext

The names of Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, and Theodor Nelson invariably get mentioned when the recent history of hypertext is under discussion. Indeed, the projects Memex [Bush 45], Augment [Engelbart 68], and Xanadu [Nelson 88], that are expressions of new ideas or concrete realisations, have been crucial to the development of this research domain. It is necessary to lament the absence of Paul Otlet from the aforementioned group of scientists because this Belgian author exhibited in his work [Otlet 34], 11 years before Bush, an exceptional clairvoyance bordering on prophecy . It is for this reason that this section uses the ideas of these four pioniers of hypertext to exhibit three essential elements that characterise and justify the fact that the word 'hypertext' means etymologicaly 'more than' 'text'.

The Gift of Ubiquity

Noting that the number of books and documents increases every day, [Otlet 34] proposes, in order to confront this deluge of information, the creation of 'bibliology', a science and general technique for documentation. The creation of this science would necessitate "a set of interlinked machines" having to perform seven operations of which "the establishment of documents in such a manner that each piece of data has its own individuality and in its relations with other data, it must be called anywhere that it is required" (operation 3) and "automatic access to consulted documents" (operation 6). It is obviously possible to note that these four authors shared the same preoccupation: the organisation of literature on a large scale, support for knowledge accumulated across the centuries, in order to make access easy and quick to that which is being manipulated. Within the projects Memex and Augment, the aim is to help the researchers with their reseach documents. The aim of the Xanadu project is slightly different, its aim being the construction of an immense network that takes into account all the available documentation ever published.

It is possible that these human and ambitious aspirations are themselves cemented within the Web. Indeed, the Web plays the role of a global library, giving its users a flexible and immediate access to a set of documents that are spread worldwide. Thus, the Web gives the impression that the user is consulting a unique document although, in reality, the user is visiting several separated servers throughout the world. Due to the dematerialisation of documents and abolishment of the notions of distance and time, the Web offers amazing possibilities, by using simple electronic clicking, to be everywhere at once. It should be noted that Engelbart, by the invention of the 'mouse' and experimentation with multi-windowed screens, has greatly contributed to an instantaneous and associative displacement within the jungle of information. In other terms, this displacement inspires, as wished for by [Bush 45], our natural manner of thinking ("As We May Think"). The Omnipotence

[Otlet 34] mentions a second essential principle for the concept of hypertext. It concerns the "presentation of documents, either by viewing directly or through the intermediary of a machine that has to make additional inscriptions" (operation 6) and the "mecanical manipulation, at will, of all the recorded data, in order to obtain new combinations of facts, and new relationships between ideas" (operation 7). Within this outlook, the user is no longer only passive, content to consult elements of information connected by active links, but active as well, in the sense that the user has available these elements in order to add annotations and personal links to them. This is the reason why the boundary between the author and reader has a tendancy to disappear since the reader benefits from a freedom comparable to that of a sculptor who is allowed to model, at will, using the material that is initially given.

On the Web, a non computer-literate user unfortunately can not exercise this freedom of action on the documents. Indeed, the creation of one link for the user, for example, is neither natural nor convivial because it is necessary to have minimal knowledge of the following: (i) directories and files, (ii) text editors, and above all (iii) the language HTML (HyperText Markup Language) [Morris 95] that is used to describe the documents. This creation of the relation can be considered as an important intellectual act since it constitutes, for its author, an argumentative and rhetorical element.

The Omniscience

"The machine that would perform these seven operations would be a veritable mechanical and collective brain"[Otlet 34]. "An active community will be constantly involved in discussion concerning the contents of its manual"(Engelbart). These two quotations put the accent on the last distinctive characteristic of the concept of hypertext, namely the cooperative work that puts the creation of personalised links and commentaries within the social construction of knowledge. Due the fact that a hypertext is adaptable and shareable, this approach means that it is never a final product but remains, for its users, an area of expression and memory that is constantly evolving. The hypertext therefore takes the form of a flexible tool of social communication, at the service of collective intelligence processes [Lévy 90]. Thus it becomes possible for each user to have access to all of the knowledge acquired by the community. At the time of his writing, Bush could already imagine a new profession of trail blazer who would be the type of experts capable of discovering and building useful routes within these documents.

It is certainly this characteristic that illustrates the most the difference between the Web and the first aspirations of the concept of hypertext. Due to the fact that the Web is organised according to a client-server architecture, each author is only in charge of a limited number of documents, of which the author has sole rights to define the links to other documents. In other terms, the documents that have not been created by the author are consultable but communication itself does not exist, since it is not possible for the user to adjust and transform them. In this case, it consists more of an interconnection of distributed knowledge : each user puts his knowledge at the disposal of the collective and knows that he can access, by return, all the information that he requires but does not have in his possession [Nanard 95]. "I offer to others my microcosm of documents" has substituted the original idea of "Let's share the universe of documents that we transform together".

[Otlet 34] Otlet, P. (1934): Extracts from "Traité de documentation, le livre sur le livre" taken from "La Pensée", n°281, May/June 1991, 66-71.

A Brief History of Hypertext

Morgan Alan Holt

Hypertext is everywhere.Without hypertext the World Wide Web would not be as powerful, and dynamic or useful an information environment as it is.It is hypertext that allows a user to navigate within and between documents and "jump" from one bit of information to the next with just a click of the mouse. Though it is most strongly identified with the World Wide Web, hypertext has a long history.The term "hypertext" was coined in the 1960's by Ted Nelson to describe what he called "non-sequential writing (Keep and McLaughlin, 2000; Nielson 1987)."He built upon the ideas first described in 1945 by Vannevar Bush as the MEMEX (Memory Extender); a proposed automatic information retrieval system modeled on the nonlinear organization of human memory (Bush 1945).Traditionally Bush's memex is considered to be the first description of what is now known as hypertext, but if we define the term without reference to a specific (i.e. digital computer) technology, a "secret history" of the concepts and applications of hypertext can be identified in the work of Paul Otlet in the decades before World War II.


The Secret History

In 1944 the Belgian bibliographer, Paul Otlet, died.As early as 1892 he had already identified the same information problem that would be described by Bush in 1945, and by 1934 he had developed and articulated a sophisticated solution that incorporated much of what today would be recognized as hypertext (Rayward 1994; Buckland 1992).

Otlet imagined documents as the raw materials of information and knowledge and saw a need for them to "be developed more fully.This development consists in establishing the connections each [document] has with all other [documents] and forming from them what might be called the Universal Book [document] (Otlet 1934 quoted in Rayward 1994)."The contents of this Universal Document could then be indexed on cards using the Universal Decimal Classification system that Otlet had helped to develop before World War I.Each card would contain only one node of information that could be related to any other node through their complex and multifaceted UDC classifications.The cards could then be accessed and organized in any sequence.UDC would provide a system of relational linkages that a user could use to search and navigate through the universe of knowledge without regard to individual document boundaries (Rayward 1994; Buckland 1992).Information would be presented in the sequence that was most useful to individual user, and not necessarily the sequence established the author or any other individual user.

The entire concept was developed by Otlet over forty years and is fully described by him in Traite de Documentation (1934).In this work he also described an automated personal information system based upon these concepts.The information machine described by Otlet bears an uncanny resemblance to the ideas developed after World War II by Bush and adapted by Nelson and Englebart in the 1960's (Rayward 1994; Buckland 1992).Specifically Otlet's conception of a Universal Document, its organization and methods of access through associative links between information nodes could be used, almost as he wrote it, to describe Nelson's conception of Xanadu.According to the definition used in this investigation, Otlet's Universal Document is a hypertext system and it would be beneficial to revisit his concepts and investigate what insights this early hypertext pioneer can offer for the improvement of today's hypertext systems.


Paul Otlet's ideas anticipated much of what we today recognize as hypertext.Unfortunately this work has been largely ignored and little of what he has to contribute has been considered in the development of modern hypertext applications like the World Wide Web.The two "histories" of hypertext that have been identified and summarized in this investigation are still largely separate and there is little or no "cross-pollination" or borrowing of ideas.It is, perhaps, time for some form of rapprochement.

Paul Otlet's visionary work needs to be recognized and included within the canon of hypertext literature.His background as a bibliographer and documentalist provided him with valuable insights into the nature of information and theories of information organization that are absent or marginalized in much of modern hypertext development.Modern hypertext systems, like the World Wide Web, are amazing repositories of information and employ sophisticated technologies for the navigation of the information space, but they suffer from a lack of attention to the principles of indexing and organization utilized by Otlet through the inclusion of the UDC as an integral part of his conception of a Universal Book.

Considering the common complaints of many hypertext users, of getting too much information of dubious value or relevance, and the ease with which one can get "lost" in the maze of available (and arbitrary) links, some of Otlet's ideas have merit.Modern hypertext has gone far beyond its original conceptions, in both the orthodox and secret histories, but the information problem identified by Paul Otlet and Vannevar Bush is still with us, and, if anything, has been growing.The solution described by neither is wholly adequate, but they do complement each other.The plea here is for an inclusive point of view that embraces the concepts of both histories as valuable and able to present new solutions and refinements that would otherwise be overlooked.

L'hypertexte: historique et applications en bibliothéconomie

par Guy Teasdale

Cursus vol.1 no 1 (octobre 1995)

Cursus est le périodique électronique étudiant de l'école de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l'information (EBSI) de l'Université de Montréal. Ce nouveau périodique diffuse des textes produits dans le cadre des cours de l'EBSI.

ISSN 1201-7302 URL:


5.2 Paul Otlet

Même si Bush demeure un géant de la technologie et du génie américain, il semble qu'il soit nettement exagéré de lui conférer le titre de "Father of Information Science" (Liller and Rice 1989, cités par Buckland 1992, 284). Par contre, Rayward (1994) mentionne que le Belge Paul Otlet, pourrait avoir eu une "vision de Xanadu" plusieurs années avant tout le monde. Tout comme pour Bush, la "technologie habilitante" (enabling technology) n'existait pas encore mais néanmoins les réalisation d'Otlet sont impressionnantes compte tenu des moyens de l'époque. Examinons donc un peu plus en détail qui était Paul Otlet et son rapport avec l'hypertexte.

Les travaux d'Otlet marquent les débuts de l'histoire de la documentation et de ses techniques. Alors que l'on conservait l'information depuis l'Antiquité, on commença, à la fin du XIXe siècle, à exploiter l'information conservée que l'on appelle documentation . Dans son article "Visions of Xanadu", Rayward rend compte des travaux d'Otlet et de ses collègues qui constituent "une part importante et négligée de l'histoire des sciences de l'information".

Avec Henri Lafontaine (1853-1943), Otlet fondait en 1892, à Bruxelles, l'Office international de bibliographie qui devint en 1895 L'Institut international de Bibliographie et finalement en 1931 l'Institut international de Documentation. Ce dernier changement de nom traduisait l'importance grandissante de l'information et de son exploitation. Par expansion des champs d'action, ce qui était la "bibliographie" est devenu la "documentation" puis les "sciences de l'information". En 1934, Otlet publiait son magistral Traité de documentation qui était une synthèse de ses 40 ans de pratiques documentaires. Le traité de documentation est également le premier ouvrage moderne traitant du problème général de l'organisation de l'information et est resté pendant des années un ouvrage fondamental en documentation (Chaumier 1971, 7). Dans cet ouvrage, Otlet présentait également une vision très imaginative de l'avenir de la documentation qui est tout aussi révolutionnaire que celle de Bush. Il entrevoyait les possibilités de la télévision, l'importance de la documentation sonore et même l'arrivée d'une documentation tactile, gustative et olfactive! Pour Otlet tous ces documents nouveaux apportés par des médias tels la télévision, la radio, le cinéma, etc., avaient des objectifs similaires à ceux du livre: informer, communiquer. Il proposait de les appeler "des substituts de livres". Otlet avait également travaillé avec Robert Goldschmidt à développer des applications bibliographiques sur microfilm (L'Encyclopaedia Microphotica Mundaneum).

Il spécula également sur la "station de travail du chercheur" qui était, selon Rayward, un MEMEX hypermédia. Cette station devait intégrer des instruments auxiliaires au travail intellectuel tels la transcription de la voix vers le texte, la lecture à distance, l'ajout d'annotations à des textes à distance (ce qui est une fonction importante de certains hypertextes aujourd'hui) sans modifier l'original. Bref, une machine qui augmenterait l'intellect humain comme celles proposées plus tard par Bush, Nelson ou Engelbart.

Rayward rend également compte des réalisations impressionnantes d'Otlet, compte tenu des moyens technologiques de l'époque. Sa technologie, c'était la fiche de carton normalisée de 3 X 5 pouces (sic!). Il en est arrivé à construire un immense instrument de recherche hypertexte manuel et multimédia. Otlet consignait sur des fiches de grandeur standardisée des informations concernant des ouvrages; ces informations peuvent être assimilées aux "noeuds" de l'hypertexte. Les liens étaient assurés par la Classification Décimale Universelle qu'Otlet créa à partir de la classification décimale de Dewey avec la permission de ce dernier, à condition que la CDU ne soit pas traduite en anglais. Peut-être est-ce là une partie de l'explication de la méconnaissance d'Otlet dont font preuve les américains, l'autre étant que le traité fut publié en français.

Otlet consignait également des notices concernant des ressources iconographiques, également liées au moyen du code de la CDU. Otlet et Lafontaine mirent en place un réseau documentaire international pour utiliser et enrichir leur documentation. Si bien qu'en avril 1934, Otlet notait que sa base de données comptait plus de 15 millions six cent mille fiches! D'autres écrits signalent qu'en 1912, il y avait un quart de million d'images dans la base de données d'images et le répertoire encyclopédique des dossiers comportait 1 million d'items dans 10,000 dossiers (Rayward 1995, 238). Ces travaux dénotent une prescience aussi remarquable que celle de Bush même si Rayward nous met en garde de sauter trop vite aux conclusions et apporte des nuances en nous situant dans le contexte intellectuel de la fin du XIXe siècle.

( )

"Une Histoire" et quelques enchevêtrements de réseaux sont ici suggérés.
Quelques Repères et Fragments (Work in Progress) (Sous la direction de Jean-Max NOYER)
(0)1 43362047 Université de Rennes II. URFIST / Université Libre de Bruxelles / ADSET,
Girsic-Solaris (0)2 99330703 Université de Rennes II Septembre 1997

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